Oh there are laws against it and company policies too! Even so, complaints against sexual harassment – and harassment in other forms – rarely if ever swim up to the top.
Complaints against sexual harassment – and harassment in other forms – are often never heard by the upper echelons of hierarchy at work. And little – if anything – is done about those that are. The burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulders of the victim and many are afraid to speak up.
Here therefore are some positive steps you can take to prevent the problem and bring the culprits to justice.
- Stand Up
That’s half the battle won! There are a hundred reasons you would rather keep mum; but remember, your silence only serves to encourage the harasser. Sexual harassers are well aware that what they are doing is illegal. They will do everything to make you feel that there is no help forthcoming from any quarter. They will cajole, threaten, and tempt you. Don’t fall for any of that. Trust your instincts and let them carry you through. Stand up for your own rights and those of others. Take the first step towards change.
- Maintain your Dignity
Men often blame the women for instigating them. Don’t give them a chance to do this. Freedom for women is all well and good but remember it is best to be prudent and professional when at work.
Mind your dress sense, behavior, and language at work. That is not to say you shoudl wear a sack to work – but don’t dress too provocatively either. Be friendly but keep your distance. Leave no door open for claims that you invited overtures from your male – or female – colleagues, bosses, and others. Besides, getting overly friendly with co-workers is not such a good idea anyway. It’s best to be professional.
Harassers will use any means – fair or unfair – to get you to co-operate. They will make offers or promotion and other benefits or threaten demotion or other repercussions in exchange for favors. Get the harasser to document his offer – if only on a plain piece of paper – and keep it safe for your record.
No easy task this, but if you pretend to go along and demand something really big you can say that you want it in writing lest he backs out. You can tempt him with information about colleagues too.
Once you have it in writing, its proof against the harasser – and if you threaten him he will probably just back off in fear giving you an easy victory!
- Keep Score
Harassers don’t come straight out with their harassment. They first test the water. To this end they will create an unfavorable environment for those they intend to harass.
For example there may be unfavorable comments about you. The barbs are subtle and usually thrown out when alone. There may even be physical overtures – such as a pat that is not quite a pat – with a view to assessing your response. Or you may be treated differently marking you out and drawing your attention.
First and foremost react negatively to such actions by moving away, talking across a desk, and refusing to do tasks beyond your job profile. It is wise to keep score of such situations to use against the harasser when needed. Make a note of every request, overture, or action that you consider inappropriate.
Also keep a keen eye open to see who else is being similarly harassed and take notes of things you observe.
- Be Secure
Keep your notes to yourself. Store them in a safe place. Don’t for example store them on your office computer – the most convenient place – where they may be easily found and conveniently deleted! Trust no one not even your best buddy at work. Make notes at work and feed them into your home computer when you get back. Or keep a notebook in your office bag. If the harasser is sending you messages via email, text, or social media, take screenshots and store them on your home computer.
When you take notes, do so in an organized fashion. Write down the date and exactly what occurred. Store screenshots with dates – if you don’t know how, learn.
Note down names, designations, and departments, of the people involved including others who you think are receiving similar treatment. When you store screenshots of texts et al make a note of where they are stored, the date, and what – if anything – prompted the action.
In short gather as much information as you can about the person harassing you and store it with dates, times, and other specific details.
There are laws against harassment at work. The law requires you to report specific incidents before you can sue. Every accused must have his day in court and a chance to correct himself. Read up or talk to a lawyer.
Every company must have a system in place for reporting such incidents. If your company does not have one – or you are working with a sole proprietor – you can demand one.
Find out the protocol in your company – you needn’t wait to be harassed to do this!
By all means talk to the person designated to complains but the written word is stronger so follow-up with a written complaint that goes something like “Further to our conversation on such-and-such date, I would like to record in writing …” Include all evidence – and above all – make sure to retain a copy of the complaint and all evidence with you.
In fact it would be a good idea to maintain all originals in a file and make several copies.
The company is not obliged to inform you of any action taken. However once a written complaint has been filed, the company is liable if the harassment continues – and which company would risk its profits for a cad?
- Spread the Word
Another great recourse is to distribute copies of your complaint among your colleagues – remember we made notes about others who are receiving similar treatment?
Let your colleagues and those above and below you know about the situation.
This will not only protect them, but will also give you a sense of who would be willing to stand up for you if – or perhaps when – push comes to shove.
- Legal Authority
Unfortunately India does not have a separate body to handle sexual harassment complaints nor are the complaints viewed with the seriousness they deserve. However the constitution of India does protect your right to freedom and right to speech.
There do exists laws though – the legislation was passed in 2013 – but your only recourse under the law is to file an FIR. Once you do that however, the police are obliged to pressure your employer to take action.
If they still take no action, you can sue them.
- Lawyer Up
As we mentioned, the laws are not clearly laid down and your only recourse is to sue. If it comes to that you need to engage a lawyer.
The law against harassment at work, sexual harassment, and other forms of harassment are relatively new. As such their scope and interpretation are subject to debate. In this scenario – and with few precedents – it is necessary to engage a lawyer who believes in your cause, is aware about the law, and is resourceful enough to interpret it in the right way.
- Get Out
No we are not advocating running away from the situation. It is imperative to bring the culprit to justice – and this should not be difficult if you have your records and can find supporters.
What we do advocate though is that you need not remain in the situation and continue to suffer.
You can ask to be transferred to a different department, take a leave of absence, or as a last resort, quit your job. You can still continue to fight – albeit from a distance.
Don’t be afraid though to go on record stating your reason for the change.
Sexual – or any other – harassment is a foul thing and must be stopped at all costs. It is just a matter of taking the first step. With so many things changing in India, let’s change one more! What say you?